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We are now a few days away from my favorite major, and I'm as confused as ever. Last year, the title of my French Open preview post was Who will win the French Open? Your guess is as good as mine. Perhaps this year's should have been Who will win the French Open? Your guess still means as little as mine does.
Yes, it's always up in the air, last year it was really up in the air, and this year it's floated off into space. As little as two weeks ago, someone asked me which players I thought stood the best chance of winning in Paris, and yesterday--while having this same discussion--I realized that my picks had changed. And they may change again before the week is over.
For one thing, I didn't see this Sharapova coming. Pova's time in Rome has blown the life back into her and we're seeing the fierce fighter of long ago. And then there's Kvitova. I know it's a "fool me once" thing to have a lot of hope for Petra in Paris, but she really is on fire in this clay court season. I cannot count her out.
Also, who knew that Karolina Pliskova was going to take such a liking to clay? I didn't. The first major for the Czech has to come some time, and it's not unreasonable to think it could come at Roland Garros.
I also like Kiki Bertens' chances. Bertens can beat anyone on clay, and her confidence has obviously risen to an all-time high, with her win in Charleston and her runner-up status in Madrid.
Garbine Muguruza is in a class of her own. The 2015 champion could win it again; she tends to show up at majors as the very best version of herself. I should add, however, that she could also go out in the first or second round. That's our Mugu.
Two players I think will make deep runs but aren't likely to win are defending champion Alona Ostapenko and Serena Williams. Ostapenko still isn't consistent enough, and Williams is really just coming back.
And now I come to the subject of world number 1 Simona Halep, and what a complicated subject that always is. Twice a French Open runner-up, Halep has more to prove than anyone else in the field. On paper, this should be Halep's championship. But this is tennis, and even more significant--this is the French Open.
And of course, this is Simona Halep. Her loss to Elina Svitolina in Rome today wouldn't be such a terrible thing (Svitolina kills in finals) if it weren't for the way she lost. It all happened so fast, and these 0-6, 1-6 sets have become rather common.
Halep is the anti-Ostapenko. Whereas the Latvian player is in the moment--without any regard to what may have just happened--Halep sometimes seems to carry the weight of the entire stadium on her shoulders. Tremendously gifted, the Romanian star can sometimes get in her own way and step out of the flow, allowing an opponent to take over the momentum of the match. Nevetheless, she's a contender to win the 2018 title.
There are several other dangerous players who could, at the least, upset contenders, and who could also wind up at the extreme business end of the tournament. These include Julia Goerges, Daria Kasatkina, Naomi Osaka, Anastasija Sevastova, Elina Svitolina, Angie Kerber, and the two Frenchwomen--Caroline Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic.
Goerges and Svitolina, in particular, are to be feared. Goerges is playing the best tennis of her career, and is in highly competitive mode. Svitolina appears to be allergic to majors, but--the tide has to turn some time, and the time may be just a few weeks from now. Her performance in Rome was smooth and confident, and she just doesn't go "off the road," as many other top players are prone to do.
Some of the shine has come off of Kasatkina as of late, and--as for the Frenchies--neither is at her best right now, but Mladenovic uses the crowd the way she uses her racket, and she's a potential threat at any time.
We're very likely to get another first-time French Open champion, and--for that matter--first-time major winner. I love the French Open, no matter what, but it's even more exciting when we have no idea who's going to win it.